Do The Upcoming Climate Talks In Durban Really Matter?

Nov 22nd, 2011 | By | Category: Advocacy, Development and Climate Change, Disasters and Climate Change, Events, Governance, Green House Gas Emissions, International Agencies, Learning, News, Opinion, UNFCCC, Vulnerability

Durban in South Africa, the site for the next round of climate talks that take place in December. Photograph: Fridmar Damm/Corbis

Guardian: While government leadership is unlikely to be strong, companies are taking the lead and there is a serious business agenda.

A dim light is shining on Durban: what does this mean for the climate talks?

After a hectic year of meetings in three continents and soon in Africa, the annual climate platform is attracting the usual appeals, communiques, media attention, and clamouring for more action by governments. This all sounds very familiar, and the real question is whether the upcoming United Nations climate change conference in Durban, South Africa, really matters. Our view is yes but government leadership is unlikely to be strong.

The discussions in Durban will revolve around the post-Kyoto era, and question future commitments  of the US and emerging economies and the rescue of the carbon markets in the absence of a new round of the Kyoto Protocol. Another significant issue will be building on the work of the Cancún agreements, including the establishment of three new institutions – the Green Climate Fund, the Technology Mechanism and the Adaptation Committee. All of these aspects must be on the agenda for decision-makers in Durban.

Governments and business are taking action on the climate

When we look around the globe, we see that climate action is very much on the minds of policymakers – and not just in developed countries. China is taking a leadership position on reducing carbon intensity and India is moving along the same lines. In the developed world, Australia has recently committed to a carbon tax while the UK has increased its resolve to lower emissions. And Germany’s recent decision to forego nuclear power will have a huge impact on the acceleration of clean energy demand. Yet despite these gains, cohesive action on a multilateral scale remains elusive.

This lack of consensus among and between nations stands in stark contrast to what’s happening in the boardrooms of global businesses. There is a growing consensus in the business community that a new path must be forged. Leading companies are demonstrating the benefits of reduced emissions, improved efficiencies and smarter planning. These businesses are leading the way toward a reframing of the climate debate: call it profit with a purpose. Because ultimately, smart businesses want to see their capital invested in ways that return both profits and other long-term societal benefits. This is the definition of sustainable business.

Yet it is also true that businesses are looking to governments to provide stability. Following from Panama, the last official round of climate negotiations before Durban and the very recent final meeting of the transitional committee to design the Green Climate Fund, the expectations that Durban will provide this stability are modest. The decades-old political stumbling blocks remain – a feasible legal form for any new agreement, the level of ambition by developed countries, measurable and verifiable actions by developing countries, the availability and effective management of climate finance and technology deployment and the fate of the Kyoto Protocol and its economic instruments. It sounds complicated and indeed it is. But there is willingness to move forward to an end goal.

But more concerted efforts are needed

In the final analysis, we must move toward a common understanding that carbon emissions have a price. Our goal must be to put into place a system that not only recognises the true price of emissions and so incentivises their lowering over time, but also rewards innovation and early action. This is going to take time, but we should not lose sight of the goal – and this will need international consistency and convergence which will need oversight and support at a global level.

So what will success in Durban look like? We should look for three things:

a smart Green Climate Fund design; an effective technology mechanism that empowers the internal capacity of countries; and a framework that allows countries to take on their appropriate responsibilities in a comparable and concerted way

Without this, we are likely to see a gradual dismantling of the international carbon market mechanisms and with it, the loss of incredibly innovative economic tools to make emissions reduction more cost effective.

Despite the doom and gloom – there is a silver lining – companies are taking the lead in measuring and managing greenhouse gas emissions, and taking diverse measures related to energy-efficiency, low-carbon options, renewables, new cleaner technologies, and working on climate resilience. This is a serious business agenda and one which will continue to drive action post-Durban.

For those committed to solutions on climate change, it is encouraging to see that even though the expectations for the conference output are low, and apart from the opportunistic gestures, the breadth of long-term interest and commitment to the climate issue still appears solid, serious and engaged in real action.

Copy on this page is provided by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, sponsor of the Business on the Road to Rio hub



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